Even if you are a good gardener, there are occasionally times in your life when you don’t have the time or inclination to spend a lot of time working in the garden. This could be down to a busy job, becoming less mobile, or simply having other interests that take up a lot of time.
Or you might have a holiday property that needs to be lower maintenance. Sometimes we all need a break from weeding, watering and sweeping. There is no such thing as a completely maintenance-free garden, but you can make it lower maintenance. And it needn’t be joyless either – indeed, sitting in an outdoor space without feeling guilty about all the jobs that need doing can be rather liberating!
If you are trying to ease your workload it might be useful to think of your outdoor space as a room with some planting, rather than lots of planting with a space to sit. The planting should punctuate your space, rather than fill it. This means of course that you are going to be allowing the surfaces of your garden, the ground and the walls, to do a lot of the talking.
Unless you love mowing the lawn or have someone to mow it for you, forget about having a lawn in a lower maintenance garden. But it is worthwhile investing in a garden ‘floor’ that is beautiful to look at. This is where premium decking can provide the perfect canvas. Wood looks attractive, of course, but needs to be treated and cleaned regularly. Composite decking such as Millboard, however, is a great low maintenance choice and comes in a wide range of colours to cater for different tastes. For instance, the dark boards of Burnt Cedar can give an ultra-modern urban vibe, whereas Weathered Oak boards in the Driftwood shade can create a bohemian coastal feel.
Walls can also be decorative – a colourful mosaic can provide year-round interest as can hanging different sized outdoor mirrors along a brick wall. Horizontal or diagonal cladding can also be an interesting feature.
Once you have your canvas you can start to build on it with small amounts of carefully chosen planting. Evergreen climbing plants are useful for breaking up an expanse of wall – ivy comes in different shades and varieties and jasmine, of course, is wonderfully scented. A clematis climbing up a corner will need very little maintenance as long as you prevent the roots from getting too hot by underplanting with something else.
Container planting and raised beds will require less digging and weeding, although you do need to be mindful that both will require regular watering. Grouping containers makes it easier to set up self-watering drip systems that can be put on a timer – this is better for the plants and the environment as the water goes straight to the roots where it is needed and without waste – and you don’t have to stand for hours with a hose in hand!
Choose trees and shrubs that will work hard for you but need minimal pruning. When working with less plants overall, it is wise to choose just two or three and stick with a colour theme, rather than having a bit of this and a bit of that, which can end up looking disjointed. A top designer tip is to have one plant in a swathe for a block of colour. For example, flowering perennials like lavender or nepeta lining a path or running along a wall will deliver long flowering colour that will come back year after year.
Whether you have pots or beds, mulch is your friend in a lower maintenance garden. It suppresses weeds and reduces the frequency of watering by preventing the soil underneath from drying out. Shredded bark and gravel are the most attractive mulches and widely available. Ground cover plants such as lamium, erigeron and creeping thyme are also useful for suppressing weeds and will spread slowly across the surface of the soil, while others like geraniums, heuchera and helianthemum will form attractive clumps, leaving less space for weeds to form.
Making your garden lower maintenance is a project in itself and will inevitably involve some work upfront. However, the end result can be a less stressful space where you can really concentrate on doing a few things very well, instead of feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of ongoing maintenance. You can always add seasonal interest such as pots of tulips in the spring and summer bedding plants if you want a burst of colour, but the important element is that you control what you do in the garden rather than the garden controlling you!